For the last few years I helped run a reasonably successful group of fresh thinkers and do-ers called Eastbourne Can. We had a nice logo. We met in pubs. We never took minutes. We got a few things done – like sprucing up five empty shops, running a design day for new local cafe, sorting out some paving in the town centre and helping a great local artist create a spectacular three shop wide mural.
We were also pretty good at social media and managed to encourage a lot of people to turn up to our get togethers (not meetings, we never called them that). The best we managed was almost one hundred in a spectacular manor house with a bar laid on just for us. If people are going to come to, ahem, meetings then at least they should be in swanky places serving alcohol.
Life was good. But I and others were running out of steam. We had become a little typecast as the group that tarts up empty shops. We also hadn’t managed to get other individuals and groups talking. Eastbourne has plenty of community groups, but they rarely talked or worked together. It’s probably the same in your town.
So six weeks ago we took the radical decision to kill off our group and try something different. Eastbourne Can is an idea, we said. It’s a network that anyone can join, chip in, make contacts and collaborate.
We launched a public Facebook group the same day, sat back and wondered if anyone would turn up. There were a few puzzled faces and we still see some now. Mostly though people are getting it and joining in.
We threw open our blog and Twitter account to anyone. No-one’s come forward to guest blog yet but we live in hope!
We created a map of Eastbourne projects. There are 21 marked so far and we receive new suggestions every day. The map could turn into a platform for collaboration. At the very least it’s much easier to see what’s going on and for groups to attract volunteers.
As I write this I see that 147 people have joined the Facebook group and there’s plenty of conversations going on. People from different groups are talking to each other and connections are being made.
It’s early days still, but the wider group seems to be doing more than it did before. It doesn’t feel like a talking shop and with the great people we’ve got on board I don’t think it ever will be.
Lessons learnt? Don’t get comfortable with the set up you have. Big tents are sometimes worth erecting. Always offer booze at get togethers.
A guest blog from Will Callaghan. Will is the founder of Eastbourne Can. By day, he’s Head of Digital at Go ON UK. He has worked on a number of government digital projects, and helped to develop a single domain for the UK government.